Celebrating the First Victory. The Mexican Grand Prix

The August 1964 German Grand Prix, the initial F-1 race in Honda’s first phase.
The following year—1965—Honda decided to compete in Formula Two in addition to F-1. The F-2 engine design team was led by Tadashi Kume and Nobuhiko Kawamoto (both future company presidents), with the final engine scheduled to be supplied to Jack Brabham’s team. Ron Tauranac took charge of the chassis design. Little did they know that they were soon to experience a painful season in both events.

The losses kept coming in F-2. The team spent night after sleepless night trying to figure out what had gone wrong. If they could not clearly explain the reason, Mr. Honda would shower them with his merciless "You, stupid!" Facing overwhelming pressure, and driven into a corner, the members of the development team were soon at the point where they were unable even to eat.

Their F-1 work focused on improving the RA271 that they had raced the previous season. Accordingly, its chassis material was changed from duralumin to corrosive-resistant aluminum alloy, and the overall weight was reduced with the engine and other components adopting lightweight materials and designs. They also signed a second driver, Ritchie Ginther, and sought his advice on how to improve the machine.

Five races later, they were still struggling. Ginther had completed just two races, and his best result was just sixth place. Back at the research center, the homebound team members had been encamped for two months, trying to improve the engine’s cooling performance while lowering its center of gravity for enhanced handling. With all these efforts, however, both machines retired with engine problems in the subsequent Italian Grand Prix. At the U.S. Grand Prix, a large leaf got sucked onto the radiator of one machine, causing its engine to overheat. It seemed the team was simply unable to score a victory on behalf of Mr. Honda, who had come there to cheer them on.

The last race of the Grand Prix season, held in Mexico, took place on a circuit 2,000 meters above sea level. It was there that the drivers were faced with conditions that did not exist at any other Grand Prix circuit, meaning the thin atmosphere of a 2,000 meter elevation. However, in this environment Honda’s fuel-injection mechanism worked very effectively, and on October 24, 1965, Ginther’s RA272 immediately leaped to the front of the pack, where it stayed until the finish. Honda had at last won its first victory, a feat that had come just two years after the team’s F-1 debut.

The victory gave ample proof that Honda’s engine and chassis technologies were world-class.

"Although the carriers are different, the technologies remain the same. When I began to think that way, I became much more confident," recalls Shinichi Koike, the team’s mechanic. "I usually worry about loose bolts and the like whenever our machines are positioned on the starting grid. But in that race I was sure we’d done everything right. When I saw our machine turn the last corner in first place, I couldn’t keep from trembling."

Soichiro gave a press conference after receiving the news of his team’s victory at the Mexican Grand Prix. "Ever since we first decided to build cars we have worked hard and been willing to take the most difficult path," he said. "Now we must study the reasons why we lose, and do the same when we win, so that we can use that knowledge to improve the quality of our cars and make them safer for our customers. That’s our duty. Once we had established our goal, we decided to choose the most difficult path to get there. This is why we entered the Grand Prix series. We will therefore not be content with this victory alone. We will study why we won and aggressively apply those winning technologies to new cars."
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